Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

Health Risks of Substance Abuse

Talking with your teenage boy about the health risks of substance abuse may feel like a losing battle. The average teenager is healthy, strong, and ready to face any danger, including the risks of accidental injury, chronic disease or premature death. Although it might be hard to convince your son to take the health risks of substance abuse seriously, you as a parent or guardian should be aware of the ways that alcohol and drugs can affect your teen’s mind and body.

Adolescence is a vulnerable period in a child’s physical and emotional development. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that growing teens are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol on the brain. Some of the effects of alcohol and drug abuse may be temporary, but other damage may have a long-term impact on the way a teenager thinks, acts, feels and functions.

How Substance Abuse Affects a Teen’s Body

The adolescent body is very resilient, but it’s not immune to the health risks of substance abuse. One of the biggest health risks of substance abuse in teens, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is the risk of chemical dependence. When you drink or use drugs on a regular basis, your brain and body come to rely on these substances. Over time, you may experience severe side effects if you stop using drugs or alcohol suddenly, a phenomenon known as “withdrawal.” Withdrawal poses a number of health risks, including:

  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Sweats
  • Muscle spasms

Teens who continue to abuse alcohol are at a high risk of accidental injuries, communicable diseases, suicide and premature death. Alcohol and drug use is the leading cause of accidental death among youths. Teenage boys are especially prone to dangerous risk-taking behaviors when they’re drinking or using drugs. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has compiled these disturbing statistics about the effects of substance abuse on teenagers’ health:

  • An increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • An increased danger of violent altercations and homicide
  • An increased danger of self-injury or suicide
  • An increased risk of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS
  • An increased risk of exposure to blood-borne illnesses like hepatitis

Substance abuse can affect all of a teen’s vital organs, including the brain, heart and lungs, liver and digestive organs. While teens may not feel the effects of substance abuse immediately, they may develop serious chronic health problems with continued use, such as diabetes, heart disease, liver disease or cancer.

How Drugs and Alcohol Damage the Brain

The adolescent brain is still in development, and substance abuse can have a severe effect on a teen’s neurological and psychological health. According to Clinical EEG & Neuroscience Journal, drug and alcohol use can alter the structure, function and cognitive abilities of a growing brain.

Drinking and drug abuse can interfere with a young person’s ability to acquire and recall knowledge. Learning, language use and emotional stability may also be affected. The cognitive deficits caused by alcohol or drug abuse may cause problems in school, interfere with a teen’s academic plans and hamper his occupational growth later in life.

As teens attempt to make the transition to adulthood, it’s more important than ever for them to be emotionally stable and mentally healthy. Alcohol and drug use in teens can cause depression, mood swings, hostility or anxiety. Because substance abuse has such a powerful effect on behavior and emotions, it may be difficult to tell the difference between the side effects of alcohol or drugs and the symptoms of a serious psychiatric disorder. Teens who display the signs and symptoms of chemical dependence should undergo neuropsychological testing to determine whether they have a co-occurring psychological disorder or learning disability.

Protecting Your Teen’s Health

Unfortunately, there’s no way to provide 100 percent protection against the health risks of substance abuse. But parents can do a lot to reduce the risks of alcohol and drug abuse in the following ways:

  • Talk with your teens honestly and openly about your concern for their health.
  • Be a good role model by avoiding substance abuse and taking care of your own physical and mental health.
  • Create a supportive, healthy family environment for teens.
  • Reach out to addiction treatment professionals for help if your teen shows the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.

At Muir Wood, our addiction treatment programs address all aspects of a teenage boy’s well-being. We offer a full range of recovery services, including strong support for families and experiential therapies for teenage boys. We encourage you to call us if you have any questions about the risks of substance abuse, or if you want to get your son started on the path to recovery.